Delay in textbook distribution again as Bangladesh aims to avert controversies

The authorities want no criticism over errors and controversial content in the new year

Kazi Nafia Rahmanbdnews24.com
Published : 29 Dec 2023, 07:58 PM
Updated : 29 Dec 2023, 07:58 PM

The National Curriculum and Textbook Board, or the NCTB, is once again stuck in a rut over the timely distribution of textbooks for the 2024 academic year.

While free textbooks for the students of kindergarten to the seventh grade are ready to be dispatched, pupils of the eighth and ninth grades will still have to wait until the end of January to get their hands on the academic textbooks.

The eighth and ninth-grade students will receive brand-new books under the new curriculum.

However, the time taken to prepare the manuscripts of the textbooks has delayed the printing, said the NCTB officials.

In 2023, the NCTB drew sharp criticism over the sixth and seventh-grade textbooks under the new curriculum.

This time, the officials are saying that there was a delay in submitting manuscripts to the printing presses in an effort to not kick up fresh criticism over the textbooks of the new curriculum.

Although NCTB Chairman Professor Farhadul Islam is hopeful that the students will receive the books by Jan 10, the printing press owners say they will need time until the last week of January to prepare the textbooks for distribution.

In 2010, the government launched the book festival to hand out free textbooks to students on the first day of the new year.

However, in 2021, they failed to distribute the books on time due to the pandemic.

In 2022 and 2023, children had to wait until March to get all of their academic textbooks.

The NCTB is set to distribute more than 307 million books for the new academic year in 2024.

Of them, 53 million books will be distributed among the pupils of the eighth grade, and 50 million will be dispatched to the children of the ninth grade under the new curriculum.

According to Prof Farhadul, 70 percent of the eighth-grade textbooks and 55 percent of the ninth-grade books have been prepared so far.

“We will be able to dispatch the ninth-grade textbooks as the presses can print around 1 million books a day.”

“But we may need an extra seven to 10 days to dispatch the eighth-grade textbooks in the districts,” he added.

Zahurul Islam, the owner of RR Printing and Packaging, said his press is scheduled to deliver the ninth-grade books by Jan 24 and the eighth-grade books by Jan 13, according to the work order.

Referring to the late arrival of the manuscripts, Mintu Mia, the owner of Molla Printing Press and Publications, said the printing would be delayed further due to the elections.

“We will have to pause work on Jan 5 due to the elections.”

“We thought we would deliver the books by Jan 10. But it may take a few more weeks, possibly Jan 20,” he added.

LAST-MINUTE AMENDMENTS

According to the NCTB, all primary school books were delivered to the districts by Dec 4.

However, the eighth and ninth-grade book manuscripts were sent for printing in mid-December.

Zahurul, the owner of RR Printing, said that he was supposed to receive the manuscripts by the first week of December. But it was delayed due to the last-minute amendments.

The printing press owners have said they received the manuscripts of eighth-grade books after Dec 12, two ninth-grade science books, and a social science book after Dec 15.

Moshiuzzaman, a spokesperson for the NCTB, told reporters, "It took time to finish the books. We had to revise them based on feedback and review the revised amendments."

At the beginning of 2023, the government came under much scrutiny over the textbooks under the new curriculum.

The public engaged in extensive debates regarding the content of the books, evaluation methods, and teachers' training.

Darwin's Theory of Evolution, for one, was a centre of debate for many. Despite not being a core part of the textbooks, the topic of evolution was also discussed in parliament.

Golam Kibria Tipu, a leader of the Jatiya Party, alleged that the topic of evolution in textbooks was an “insult to Islam”. He also condemned those who prepared the books and asked for them to be prosecuted under the blasphemy law.

The books also triggered fierce debates and objections over ancient civilisations, gods, goddesses and cultures.

Some also took to the streets over allegations of images of nude idols, encouragement of homosexuality, and bias over Hindu rulers. Whether Ikhtiyar Uddin Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji occupied or conquered India was also debated.

More controversies unfolded afterwards as Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Professor Hasina Khan admitted to replicating a part of the book using exact translations from a website.

Although the government initially dismissed the criticisms of the new curriculum as propaganda, it later withdrew two topics of history and social science subjects from classes six and seven.

The NCTB was also obligated to provide as many as 428 amendments in 40 books of these two classes.

This time, the institute's officials preparing the textbooks said that maximum efforts have been made to avoid these controversies.

Prof Moshiuzzaman told bdnews24.com, "We have tried our best so that no one can find errors in the textbooks this time."

He also added that the pupils of classes eight and nine will get five or six books for now.

"We will send the rest of the books around Jan 10," he said.

QUALITY

Last year, the printing presses used low-quality papers for textbooks after bargaining with the government over the exemption of duties.

The brightness of the books was also reduced from 85 grams per square metre to 80 gsm.

This time, the NCTB chairman said the upcoming election has had some impact on the printing of the textbooks.

“The books are usually printed on rolling papers, and electoral materials are usually printed on flat papers.”

“We generally use flat papers for the book covers. But this had little impact since the core texts are printed on rolling paper,” said the chairman.

Professor Farhadul Islam told reporters that printing presses will be fined if they compromise the quality of the books.

“The government rate for papers is Tk 3.15. But the printing press owners want to use the Tk 1.90 ones,” he added.

[Writing in English by Ruhshabah Tabassum Huda; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]